We are so excited to be serving in Malawi. We invite you to take this journey with us. Keep the beautiful people of Malawi in your prayers, and us too.

Friday, March 15, 2013

When Winning is Losing

Today was an interesting day.  At 2 PM, we had a scheduled game with our local sports ministry team Lyzee United Football Club. By the time 2:15 rolled around, I found 50 kids around me ready to play.  These boys are our family. We know them each by name, we know their families, and they have taken a special place in our hearts and prayer life.  Most of the time, the joy that these boys bring us is uncontainable and we write about it but today was something different.

Watt is one of our under 10 boys
The whistle was blown and the under 10 boys began their game.  While they played their tails off, I noticed many of our boys who were watching, were verbally quarreling with one another.  This is not a norm at our kids club as we teach them the Word and we’ve seen the Holy Spirit transform many of their lives.  I was surprised at this behavior but did not take immediate action. Many of these young boys don’t have a living father or mother so Becca and I are like their parents. Today I realized how much I love these boys and it was because my heart broke when they acted contrary to everything they know and have learned in the past 2 years. 

What happened is, in a matter of 5 minutes, we witnessed several of the boys from our older team mocking some of the younger boys and the individuals being made fun of were those who did not have the same football skill level as them.  I felt pain as I saw the faces of a few of the younger and less-gifted footballers being bombarded with negativity.  I saw the damage it was doing to their confidence and self-worth and it ripped me up.  But..i waited in silence, from a distance in hope that my boys would shape up and love one another.  Today just seemed like a fluke day because we were at a public pitch where many other Gospel-less community teams were watching intently. I thought to myself, “They’ll calm down. I’m sure they are just nervous because many other teams and coaches are here so they are trying to make themselves look cool.” But my hopeful (possibly foolish) assumptions were wrong. 
About 30 minutes later, just as we were leaving the football pitch to go home, a fight broke out between two of our boys. No punches were thrown but they each had each other by the collar and were ready to go at it. Many harsh words were said in the presence of many lost people watching on.  At this point I lunged in and broke it up and all 50 of us walked 30 minutes home in silence.  Without a word being said, they knew they needed to come to my house because we had to talk.

As we filed into our home, my heart went out and the Spirit of God spoke to me.  I was deeply impressed by the Lord to make the most of this awful situation in which the name of Christ was not shown in good light to outsiders.  Many community teams that are involved in all sorts of bad activities and far off from Christ were present and saw this scuffle happen and they know who we are and what we stand for and Who we live for.  They know the Word of God is clearly taught several times each week to these boys and they saw a picture of hypocrisy. And it grieved God’s heart. 

But He was not done with my boys. What God clearly showed me is that this is an opportunity for a teachable moment like I’ve never had before that sports have brought about. 

So often we talk about these ‘teachable moments’ or real-life situations that sport brings about that we as Christian coaches must pour the Gospel into.  But, I must admit that I rarely give good examples of what these ‘teachable moments’ look like practically.  This platform of sport has enabled us to have a deep relationship with these boys and today that relationship was painful.  My heart broke as I saw those two precious boys so angry with one another, not focused on reflecting the glory of the King to all those around.  Honestly, they usually do an incredible job at showing the glory of Christ to visiting teams or wherever we go.  They have spent the past year and a half learning the Word of God chronologically with us and many of them have surrendered their lives to Jesus and we see clear fruit from it.  But today was not one of those days.  Even though we had won the game, every one of us left the football ground dejected, humiliated, and knowing that something was wrong. We had lost something much greater.  And I as the coach was faced with a decision: Should I punish them, extend grace, cancel the next week of practice, only punish those involved in the fight or what?   I had no clue so I asked the Lord for help.

And once again, our great God came through…just in the nick of time.  As I opened the old rusty gate to our compound, God impacted my heart with overwhelming love for the boys….and for Him. It was truly overwhelming. That’s the only way I can describe it in writing.  They all sat in the front yard completely silent and motionless probably thinking, “Is this club finished forever?  Have we messed up so bad that we are never gonna come back?  Is he gonna scream at us for acting so foolishly?  I sure hope coach only punishes those involved in the fighting.”

As I looked to them I said, “Guys I love you and I love the Lord.” And then I started to tear up which completely caught me by surprise and it was at that moment that I saw their eyes.  It was their eyes that God spoke clearest to me thorough.  We all were experiencing the terrible feeling of sin and guilt and not brining glory to the One who has created us…and our hearts grieved because of it.  The Spirit of God in so many of the boys and in me grieved and longed for the glory of Christ to be shown.  But we had failed and every single kid knew it.  Sin is miserable.  It feels good to walk the fence of sin or even slander someone else but in the end, when God’s name is blasphemed because of it, the Spirit of God inside of us aches.  It aches because Jesus is better!  He is better than any sin or good-feeling thing we can do.  He is better than winning a game. He is better than scoring a goal. He is better than ace-ing an exam or winning the lottery.  Nothing compares to the satisfaction that knowing Christ and then reflecting His face to others brings.  And it was this moment with my boys today that I realized this truth to a whole new level.

In Chichewa I asked them, “How did today go guys?”  Three hands instantly shot up.  Their answers: “Horrible.” “We messed up big.” and then “We spoke unkind words to one other which escalated into us fighting and looking like idiots in front of many people who know who we are: a group of kids who love Jesus and know His Word.” Ouch.  His high-pitched voice in what once was a foreign language to me pierced deep and more of my tears began to stream.  They saw their coach (me) tear up and, naturally, many of them did the same. It was then that I could see that God has been working in them.  Despite the terrible day, they had conviction.  Even though they won the game, they knew they had lost something much bigger today.    I told them, “You are probably feeling horrible because you’ve hurt me but please don’t try to change your behavior because of me.  I want you to run to God and ask Him to change you from the inside out because He is the only One who can initiate lasting change.   When you guys die and face God He is not gonna ask you, ‘Did you play soccer well? Or ‘Did you make a lot of money?’ or ‘Did you travel the world?’  No guys! He’s gonna ask you, ‘Did you reflect my face to people who needed to see it?’  And that is the only thing that matters!  Football does not matter. Winning does not matter. The everlasting kingdom of Jesus Christ matters and you know that’s why we’ve come to Malawi. We’ve come to tell you about and show you this Kingdom and the King who reigns and who is worthy and that’s why we are gonna stay here.  This King is Jesus. He is real and He has loved us and is our fountain that will never run dry and because of that our love for you guys will never run dry because He is our source.  Guys, there is something much bigger at stake here.  Let’s seek His face.  Let’s ask Him for help because we need it today. We cannot do this on our own. Without full dependence on Christ, it’ll be impossible for us to change our wicked ways so we’ve gotta give Him everything.  Who is ready to do that?  Who is ready to repent about what happened today?”

I didn’t have to say anything else before my two captains of the team popped up.  My leaders who I’ve poured into more than any others showed their leadership and led in repentance and prayer.  It was beautiful.  God is great.  Please pray for us as we seek the face of Jesus like never before.  We need His help to live out His commands and be light to our community.  Don’t we all? 

Becca and I talked extensively tonight and I just couldn’t get over the goodness of God in our lives.  The pain and then deep love I felt for the boys today moved me.  I’m not the same.  I love Jesus more than ever because of what happened today.  As I’m writing this, I cannot type three sentences without thinking about the greatness of our Father who cares for His children.  Today, I really felt like a father to these boys and God showed me just a bit more about how He feels when we seek other things to satisfy our souls.  When we seek the things of the world in any way, shape or form, we’ll leave the Father tearful and find ourselves feeling stupid and unsatisfied, even if we win (in the world’s eyes).

Please pray for wisdom and direction as we attempt to love and lead these kids from our community by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Most importantly, pray that God would grab hold of our entire team and fill them in such a way that they cannot contain oozing His goodness all over this country, continent and the nations.

My prayer for these boys tonight is Psalm 79:8 – “Do not hold against us the sins of the (our) fathers; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.  Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake.”

I long for every one of these boys to be singing the song of heaven some day with me at the feet of Jesus with people gathered from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

Humbled by His mercy,



  1. Nothing more to say Luke and Becca other than wow! Prayers as you both reflect who Christ is to these children. I am going to share your post, I believe that your words can remind me and other's of our purpose in this world. It gets clouded over by the things of the world and we, like these children, often get side tracked by our own flesh! I thank God that He provided the words for you to share and this lesson for all of us to learn and relearn. Thanks Luke and Becca

  2. Dearest Luke and Becca, What a beautiful story!! We love you more than words can say!! Aunt Shari XO

  3. Luke and Becca, I am a friend of Marion Merriam and she shared this blog with me. It is so inspiring, and humbling to know that these young lives are so convicted and convinced of their failings and that they are loved and cared for - not just by you but by our amazing, caring loving Father in Heaven. These children are very blessed in having you both in their lives and I will keep praying for you. I hope one day to be able to meet your gorgeous family. May you continue to know the guiding hand of the Almighty and continue to be blessed in this work of faith. xx Joan-A MacLennan. (SE London, England)